County expects decline in sales tax revenues
by Jason Lowrey
Aug 20, 2013 | 1149 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For the third year in a row, Bartow County is expected to receive less sales tax revenue than it did the year before.

In 2012 the county received $14,102,022.42 in Local Option Sales Tax. That same year, the county received $20,709,838.77 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. For 2013, the county has so far received barely more than half of those LOST revenues and less than half of those SPLOST revenues.

Bartow County Chief Financial Officer Jo Taylor said it was unlikely the county would receive enough sales tax revenues to match the numbers from 2012. She said county revenues were dented by legislation such as the Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption, the title ad valorem tax on automobiles and the tax exemption on energy used for the manufacturing. Although the county did implement a local energy tax, Taylor said, it is only a quarter of the revenue the county had previously received.

Those dents add up to roughly $1 million to $2 million less in LOST revenue, Taylor estimated.

“We collected last year less than 2006 and this year we’ll definitely collect less than 2006,” Taylor said, comparing 2013 to a pre-recession year. “You think of all those years inflation went up, but then yet the sales tax has gone down so much.”

As of July, Bartow County collected $7,496,865.95 in LOST and $11,015,791.69 in SPLOST.

The title ad valorem tax has changed the way the county looks at some of its revenue, said County Administrator Peter Olson. Whereas the state once charged a yearly tax on automobiles, it now charges a one-time 6.5 percent tax when the vehicle is registered. The funds are listed as a different line item, rather than sales tax, and that has had some bearing on the sales tax numbers.

“I’ve seen four months of data,” Olson said of the title ad valorem tax. “The first month was $80,000 and the last month was up to $200,000, so if that starts to be more normal, that does help. That’s a new column of revenue so you can offset some of the falling sales tax and SPLOST.”

However, the title ad valorem revenue goes into a county’s general fund, which does not help the SPLOST accounts, Olson added.

“If you look at last month, our SPLOST and LOST together were down $500,000 from a year ago, so $200,000 doesn’t really offset that. It helps, it helps in terms of the operations budget, but I have full expectation they’ll really tinker with that [legislation] again,” he said.

Another dent to county sales tax revenues comes from utilities.

During his state of the county speech at the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon, Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor referenced the decreasing amounts the county was receiving in utility sales tax. In 2010, he said, the revenues stood at $10.2 million. By 2012 they had fallen to $5.8 million and estimates for 2013 put the amount at $4.6 million. Taylor, at the time, called it a “big chunk” of the county’s budget.

Olson agreed.

“That’s about 8 or 9 percent of the budget. That’s a huge chunk,” he said.

The county started preparing for lower revenues last year, he continued.

“The collection on the new SPLOST [starts] in January. The projects were divvied up based on an absolute best-case scenario of $220 million in collections, and in part, my understanding [is], that was done by the past administration when they picked the dollar figure and they didn’t want to necessarily undershoot,” Olson said. “So they wanted to be on the high side, but I think they knew it was a good shot they wouldn’t be able to get that.

“If we carry out forward at the $1.46 million we’ve collected in the last three months on average, we’re going to get only like $106 million — that’s barely half.”

Such reduced SPLOST numbers will lead the county to prioritizing its SPLOST projects as it considers its funding, Olson explained. Those lower revenues also had a factor in the recent millage rate increase. While the SPLOST does not go into the general fund, Olson said, lower sales tax revenues overall do decrease the general fund. As the county cannot increase the sales tax rate, the administration was left with the millage rate increase since it did not wish to cut services.

Olson did believe, though, the situation would improve in the future. He cited the possibilities of the LakePoint Sporting Complex & Town Center to bring in restaurants and other retailers that will generate sales tax dollars. Bass Pro Shop, located in the same general area, is predicted to have sales of $80 million to $100 million per year, which could supply the county with $1 million each in SPLOST and LOST.

“I’d like to think this is the bottom of the barrel right now. You’re seeing signs in the broader economy of a little bit of a better pickup. Technically, they say we’ve been out of the recession for a couple of years, but the government lags the economy. I like to think we’re in the worst year, to me, barring some great disaster,” Olson said.

Statewide, gross sales tax decreased by 5 percent, according to a press release from Gov. Nathan Deal’s office. Net sales and use tax collections for July dropped 6.6 percent, or $30.25 million. The monthly distribution of sales tax to local governments totaled $378.75 million, a decrease of $17.5 million, or 4.4 percent, from last year.